LETTER: Jersey City BOE Trustee Schapiro is ‘an out-of-touch elitist,’ teacher says


In a letter to the editor, Jersey City teacher and veteran operative for the local teachers’ union Kristen Zadroga Hart says BOE Trustee Matthew Schapiro is “an out-of-touch elitist” when it comes to their contract negotiations.

Kristen Zadroga Hart

Dear Editor,

I’m a Jersey City public school teacher for the last 24 years and grew up in McGinley Square. Like many educators, I took offense when newly-elected JCBOE trustee Matt Schapiro recently suggested that teachers were “negotiating against the better interest of the community” when asking for affordable healthcare for its members.

This is unfortunately the mindset of an out-of-touch elitist, who can’t fathom the struggles of working in the public sector but can preach from his million-dollar downtown brownstone about what’s in the “best interest of the community.”

I chose to raise my children and work in the city that I grew up in and love.

I am proud to be a teacher in the Jersey City Public Schools and I’m especially proud to be part of the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA), a workforce union of over 3500 members who together work to improve our teaching conditions – which are the same as our student’s learning conditions.

In partnership with parents across the city, the JCEA has fought for everything from safer and healthier buildings to reducing the use of expensive standardized tests – so that we can provide the best education possible to every student who comes through our doors.

Much to Mr. Schapiro’s disappointment, we even fight for appropriate healthcare to ensure our teachers can see a doctor when they’re sick and afford the care they need to continue teaching.

Advocacy is what we do.

It should be no surprise to anyone that as teachers, we’ve advocating for better, more affordable health care. Rising costs impact everyone and you need not look further than any number of national stories about health care in the United States to know that we still have issues with affordability and access on our hands.

Supporting our families has become increasingly hard as the cost of our health benefits have risen so fast that our take home pay today is less than it was last year or even ten years ago.

I find it deeply upsetting that Mr. Schapiro thinks 3500 public employees wanting better, more affordable health care is some insidious plot against “the community.” Teaching is a calling, not a career, that we do with no expectation of becoming rich.

Is it a cliché? Yes, but true nonetheless.

I dare Mr. Schapiro to tell the teachers in his school that they don’t deserve to be able to afford to live around the block from him, or elsewhere in the city for that matter.

Or that it’s okay for teachers to pay higher premiums because they may not live here, or that they don’t deserve to provide health care to their families the way he’s privileged to provide for his own.

To suggest that our demand for those basics is somehow against the better interest of our community is insulting not just to me and my colleagues, but to all the residents who utilize Jersey City public schools.

It is not “us against them” as Mr. Schapiro suggests, but rather, we are all in it together to make this city a place we are proud of with excellent schools, safe streets, and strong sense of community.

The bias Mr. Schapiro demonstrated by suggesting our interests differ from those of the city residents, when many of us are both and all of us serve the children of this city, makes it clear he lacks respect for the educators throughout Jersey City and the negotiation process.

I hope that Mr. Schapiro will apologize to the community for his offensive remarks, especially as we continue to work to resolve our contract with the district.

If not, I respectfully suggest that he should not be allowed to participate in the negotiation process or vote as he has already made up his mind that we are the enemy rather than the educators who are teaching the children of the city I love.

Kristen Zadroga Hart

Jersey City teacher


Editor’s Note: In response, Schapiro said “Ms. Hart’s personal attacks are insufficient to hide the truth from the careful reader: the teachers’ contract is negotiated between two parties, the teachers’ union and the Jersey City Board of Education. The union represents the interests of the teachers. The Board of Education represents the interests of the families, students, and residents of Jersey City. Ms. Hart knows this as well as anybody.”

He also expressed that he was writing on his own behalf, not the BOE as a whole, and added he was not interested in submitting his own letter.

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  1. Union teachers are the 1% of the 1% of the comp + benefits world. Nobody in the private sector has the benefits they do. Nobody. Unfortunately, they are now an elite. We, the community not employed in the public sector, have experienced a winnowing away of our benefits to high deductible health plans, plans devoid of providers and/or having gaping holes in coverage, discontinued pension plans, fading retirement benefits and a lot of other economic strain that many union teachers have been exempted from. Note that there were exemptions granted to union healthcare plans to conform with the rules of the ACA, when that became law.
    I used fully buy into the narrative that educators are woefully paid, underappreciated and so on. Having served on the boards of two individual schools, I’ve navigated the challenge of sourcing benefits for teachers at a reasonable price range, keeping co-pays low and maintaining decent service levels. But these teachers were non-union.
    The starting salaries of teachers are low, true; but, the mid-career teacher takes home more than a decent wage when assessed against the private sector counterparts. Compute their total compensation (comp+benefits) and see quickly how their lives differ from ours in ‘the community.’ First-responder benefits for teaching? Retirement in as low as 20 years with a pension based on your late career earnings? Ironclad job security? That’s just not reasonable. Or sustainable.
    So the veteran educator ought to revisit the rules of argument. An ad hominem attack on someone because of where they live doesn’t prove that person is an elitist. Immunity from economic risk that others in the community have to face makes one quite elite.